Michael Parker, author of Unaccustomed As I Am, shares his knowledge and advice to ensure your wedding speech will be one to remember.
The principles of the wedding speech are constant. Whether formal or impromptu, religious or civil, straight or same-sex, at the heart is a constant: the celebration of the union of a couple. And the basics of a good speech are constant too. Depending on the nature of the event and the audience – hundreds of guests in a grand ballroom or a handful outside on a garden lawn – you may tailor the content of your speech, but stick to the principles. Stick to your brief. Find out what is expected. Who else will be speaking and what will they be saying? How long should you speak for? Are there any specifics to include? Anything you shouldn’t mention? Resist the temptation to show off. Your speech is the icing on the cake, not the cake. Know your audience. The speech will only be good if it lives up to the expectations of your audience.
Before you get started, you need to establish a reasonable understanding of this particular audience, at this particular wedding. This may seem obvious but the typical wedding audience can be extremely diverse. It’s not possible to address all the different interests but don’t fall into the common trap of only speaking to your peer group, your immediate family and friends. Don’t ignore anyone. Find a thread. Start your research early and don’t procrastinate. Search for source material, perhaps mind-mapping as you go, with the aim of finding a central idea or thread. Tell stories, not jokes. Don’t feel that jokes are obligatory, however much well-meaning friends may say otherwise. Your audience will lap up personal stories well told and laugh along with them.
Keep it short. Make sure you stick to the time agreed beforehand. (Generally, two to three minutes for the shorter speeches and seven or so for the longest.) Don’t fall into the ‘nervous’ trap of going on and on and on. No cringe moments. It’s always tempting to tell a story that may be hilarious to a few who are ‘in the know’ but which is meaningless or, much worse, offensive to other guests. This is one of the most common errors and can ruin the occasion. If in doubt, check the risqué anecdote beforehand. Don’t wash dirty linen in public! Handle your nerves. It’s natural to feel nervous but keep telling yourself that the audience is on your side. Unlike some speaking events, like a political rally, you face no hostility. They are not in a critical mood. They don’t mind mistakes. They want you to succeed. The more you rehearse, the more spontaneous and confident you’ll be. The toughest time is when you stand up – your first few words. If you practice nothing else, practice the first 30 seconds. Master these and the rest will seem easy.